| The Heath Anthology of
American Literature, Fifth Edition
Gary Soto was born in Fresno, California, in the
heart of the San Joaquin Valley, one of the world’s richest agricultural
regions. Raised in a working-class family, Soto attended parochial and public
schools before enrolling in Fresno State College, intending to study geography
and urban planning. His interests soon shifted to literature, however,
especially after studying with the prominent poet Philip Levine. Soto published
his first poem in 1973 in the Iowa Review as a college senior. After
graduation, he entered the creative writing program at the University of
California, Irvine and earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in 1976. Soto then
resided briefly in Mexico. His first book of poetry, The Elements of San
Joaquin, appeared in 1977 to much critical acclaim. That same year, Soto began
teaching at the University of California, Berkeley where he remains. After four
volumes of poetry, Soto has more recently published three collections of
autobiographical sketches and essays. He is the winner of various prestigious
prizes including a Guggenheim fellowship and the Academy of American Poets
much contemporary American verse, Soto’s poetry is largely autobiographical,
recalling childhood and adolescent incidents, and delineating family
experience. Soto possesses the skill of converting ordinary, even banal, events
into poetic occasions; much of his power and appeal as a poet derives precisely
from the accessibility and familiarity of his subjects: a grandmother’s
courage, a youthful failure as an athlete, a father’s relationship with his
curious, energetic daughter. Soto’s preference for clear, uncomplicated
language and concrete images also enhances his work’s accessibility. In terms
of technique, the most striking feature of Soto’s poetry is enjambment, the
device of carrying meaning, without pause, from one line to the next.
ethnic consciousness—his sense of himself as a Mexican American—animates much
of his work without delimiting it. Soto moves easily between the United States
and Mexico to find his settings, his themes, and his protagonists. He often
focuses on peculiarly Mexican American issues and he frequently delineates,
especially in poems recalling his childhood, the Mexican Americans’ sense of
community. But Soto presents Mexican American experience and culture as they
fit within a broader context of human events and values. It is fair to say that
Soto’s largest concern as a poet is the plight of that segment of humanity that
is exploited, ignored, unheard. Soto lifts his voice in their behalf; as he once
wrote: “I believe in the culture of the poor.”
University of California, Los Angeles
In the Heath Anthology
Mexicans Begin Jogging
The Elements of San Joaquin
The Tale of Sunlight
Where Sparrows Work Hard
Living Up the Street
Lesser Evils: Ten Quartets
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Brief introduction to Soto including his major literary accomplishments and the text of How Things Work.
Gary Soto : An Annotated Bibliography
A comprehensive summary of Soto's works.
The Academy of American Poets
A biographical sketch, links and the text and an audio file of Soto's poem Mission Tire Factory, 1969.
The Official Gary Soto Website
A biography and information about Soto's current projects.